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46% retailers don't know non-woven bags offered aren't eco-friendly alternative: Study

By Our Representative

A new study 'Environmental illusion: The non-woven bag' by the Delhi-based advocacy organisation Toxics Link, has sought to bust the myth that non-woven (NW) bags are an eco-friendly alternative to plastic bags. The study reveals that they are nothing but polypropylene (a form of plastic).
The study results indicate that while 88% of the respondents have replaced plastic bags with alternatives, 45% have replaced plastic bags with non-woven bags and just 40% have replaced plastic bags with paper.
The Toxics Link survey was carried out amongst different retailers and vendors in Delhi to assess the usage of plastic bags and its alternatives and looked at different types of establishments to understand if plastic bags are still widely used or the alternatives have become popular.
Lack of correct information or misleading information is leading most vendors to use NW polypropylene (PP) as replacement for normal plastic, Toxics Link said, adding, five samples of non-woven bags were sent to an accredited laboratory based in New Delhi, wherein PP and polyester (both are plastic resins) were found in them.
The study found that rampant use of non-woven bags as an alternative has been found among vegetables and fruit cooperatives, adding, the common misconception among consumers is that NW bags are bio-degradable and eco-friendly. Thus, 46% of the respondents were of the opinion that NW bags will bio-degrade, but a large percentage (44%) were unsure. Only 10% of them said that these replacements were non-biodegradable.
Said the study, test results confirm that consumers are being hoodwinked and made to believe that the NW carry bags with a cloth-like appearance are biodegradable which is far from the truth.
"The lower cost of non-woven bags, compared to most other alternatives, is one big reason that the establishments prefer to hand out these”, said Priti Mahesh, chief programme coordinator at Toxics Link, said.
She added, “Though the study was conducted in Delhi, secondary research suggests that non-woven bags are used widely all over the country. Since the materials used to make the non-woven bags are also plastics, these bags too pose an equal threat to the environment like plastic bags and are clearly not the lesser of two evils."
The study said, at the national level, Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 have been enacted, wherein the minimum thickness of the bags which can be used is 50 microns. There have been also stricter regulations at the state level with some states banning the plastic bags entirely and some restricting their usage in ecologically sensitive areas.
States like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have specified banning of non-woven bags in the overall plastic ban regulation. But the industry continues to assert that NWPP bags are the best alternative to polythene or regular plastic bags, citing their durability and also claiming that they are environment-friendly, the study asserted.
Some industry players also claim that NWPP bags are bio-degradable. Though some local and regional government agencies have explicitly admitted that NWPP bags are not the right choice, there is still lack of clarity on the issue. Clearly, the regulators have not come out with any clarification and advice to consumers let alone stopping the use of such bags, the study said.
"Regulatory agencies have a huge role to play in including non-woven bags containing plastic resins, in the list of banned or restricted plastic bags, as done by few states already”, Satish Sinha, associate director at Toxics Link, adding, “But even beyond this, there is a huge need to educate the establishments, who at times have voluntarily shifted to non-woven bags as a measure to be environment-friendly."

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